Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, May 1, 2014

enough about us

Recently, I’ve been reading a number of thoughtful posts and articles that explore what’s becoming of the self under our current technocracy. This Judith Donath piece on pseudonymity is smart, as is this more expansive meditation by Rob Horning. And then there’s a new series by Josh Glenn on codes:

Each post in this series will identify one code: a single node in the vast meaningfulness-matrix structuring our perception of the everyday world....

Many of the codes analyzed in this series may seem banal, quotidian, obvious. Why? Because that’s how semiotic [i.e., meaningfulness-producing] codes function in our daily lives; they operate at the that’s-just-how-things-are level of “primary ‘obviousness’.”

I hope the Code-x series will shed some light — no matter how dim or fitful — onto the enduring structuralist question: What are the implicit assumptions (or “mythologies”) we’ve absorbed without consciously evaluating them?

The first code Glenn explores is one he calls “Wired Self-Potentiation”: “Multitasking re-imagined as existential branching-out. Breaking the mold. Demonstrating vitality, multiplicity, and proactive refusal to conform to stereotyped expectations. All thanks to networked technology.”

This is all really, really good stuff — vital stuff — and yet I find that reading it makes me tired. More about me? More about us? More about the endless performative dance of selfhood? Even if the analysis is critical rather than consumerist or celebratory, it keeps turning us inward. This kind of semiotic/cultural analysis is my thing, in a very serious way, but there’s so much of it now I just want to go for a walk with my dog or sit under a tree and listen to birds or practice some form of kenotic meditation.

Anyone who has ever tried to think knows the value of escaping, from time to time, the gravitational pull of even those topics that most fascinate you and seeing them in new and vivid ways after re-entry. (“The Eureka Phenomenon,” Isaac Asimov called it in an essay that used to be a staple of freshman composition courses.) This is not to say that taking a break from thinking about the technologically-assisted self is an escape from the self. But it reorients you; it reminds you that the world is bigger than your habitual, everyday experience of it. That’s a good thing.


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